Area History

Mid-Antrim History

The history of Mid-Antrim has been created against a background of national and international events, which influenced the lives of individuals and communities. This interweaving of near and far, past and present, created the patterns of identity found in the area today.

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The Distant Past

There is evidence of people having lived in Mid-Antrim for around 9000 years. Traces of a Middle Stone Age settlement were found along the Bann Valley. By the New Stone Age, people were becoming more settled, and built impressive stone tombs (megaliths) for communal burials, such as one at Ticloy, near Broughshane. Metal working was introduced 4500 years ago, and bronze axe heads have been found.

Medieval Mid-Antrim

Christianity spread into Mid-Antrim from the 5th Century, with a church founded in Connor, 5 miles south of Ballymena, in 480 AD. In 831 AD it was burnt during a Viking raid. Christianity had a major impact not solely on religious practice, but on the law and many other aspects of life. From 1000 AD the Anglo-Normans established a base at Carrickfergus, and from here they expanded the Earldom of Ulster into parts of north and east Antrim. Ballymena was outside the Earldom, but influenced by it. The Anglo-Normans built wooden forts on top of large defensive earth mounds called mottes. One of the best examples of these in Northern Ireland is Harryville Motte and Bailey. Ordinary people lived in scattered farmsteads, creating security by using the land, sometimes enclosing their land in ring-shaped earthworks (raths), at others building lake dwellings (crannogs) or else underground refuges (souterrains). Gradually people began to live in houses, in small groups or clachans. Power lay within an ever-changing network of small kingdoms.

Ballymena Develops

Before the 17th century, Ballymena was a small village among others some of which - Kells, Connor, Toome and Broughshane - were more dominant. Some local Gaelic landowners, such as the O'Haras of Crebilly, had managed to hold on to their lands during times of shifting frontiers and centres of power. Other landowners were Protestant settlers, often Scottish, associated with the "Plantation of Ulster". Land was within the gift of the Crown in London, and national politics impacted locally in Ballymena. The settler Adair family became major landowners and developed the town, though spending increasing time over the next two centuries based in England. Late in the 18th century new weaving technology was introduced to the area by the Moravian community of Gracehill. The domestic linen industry began to thrive. Ballymena became a significant commercial centre, with a regular livestock market and family businesses providing supporting goods and services.

Up to the Present

Ballymena grew as a centre of trade, and from the 1850s produced linen cloth in town-based factories. This industry prospered until after the First World War. The railway arrived in 1848, and public buildings, including churches and a town hall, began to proliferate. Inspired by Victorian Romanticism, Sir Robert Alexander Shafto Adair (later Lord Waveney) devised the concept of "Ballymenagh of the Seven Towers", to celebrate the town's new sense of importance. Ballymena became a Borough in 1939, and continues to change and grow. The Braid, where the Mid-Antrim Museum is housed on the historic Town Hall site, stands as a testament to the continuing local tradition of independence, industry and civic responsibility.

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